These 12 Ingredients Are Essential for Korean Cooking

Plus, learn what they are and where to find them.

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Korean food ingredients
Photo: Ryan Liebe

Before you start cooking, it's always helpful to have all the spices and ingredients you might need on hand. To learn more about the essential ingredients for Korean cooking, we asked Judy Joo, author of Korean Food Made Simple and Judy Joo's Korean Soul Food, as well as the host of the TV show Korean Food Made Simple, to help us build our Korean pantry. Joo spent years on Wall Street before trading in market stresses for a hot seat in the kitchen at her London restaurant, Jinjuu. Here are the eight essential ingredients Joo recommends to cook classic Korean dishes at home. Plus, where you can buy them for yourself.

12 Essential Ingredients for Korean Cooking

1. Gochugaru

Gochugaru is ground dried Korean chiles.

Buy it: Amazon, $9.03 for a one-pound bag

2. Ssamjang

Ssamjang is a thick, spicy paste typically served with lettuce wraps. You can buy it or make it yourself with Joo's Ssamjang recipe and then pair it with her Korean Chicken Skewers (Dak Ggochi).

Buy it: Amazon, $6.00 for a 17.6-ounce container

3. Gochujang

Gochujang is a bright red, fiery chile paste and an essential Korean condiment.

Buy it: Amazon, $8.08 for a 17.6-ounce container

4. Doenjang

Doenjang is a flavorful paste that, like miso, is made from fermented soybeans. Try it in Joo's Mushroom & Shrimp Pancakes (Pajeon) recipe.

Buy it: Amazon, $8.67 for a 17.6-ounce container

5. Miyuk

Miyuk, which is sometimes labeled sea mustard or wakame, is a type of wrinkly brown seaweed, widely enjoyed by Koreans in soup (like in Joo's Seaweed Soup (Miyuk Guk). It's often sold precut into strips and expands greatly as it soaks in liquid.

Buy it: Amazon, $6.95 for a 3.5-ounce package

6. Perilla Leaves

Perilla leaves are slightly thick and minty tasting, often used in place of lettuce to wrap up foods in Korean cooking. Try using them with Joo's Korean BBQ Short Ribs (Galbi) as the filling. But if you can't find them, Shiso or even large mint leaves make a good substitute.

Buy it: Etsy, $3.25 for seeds to grow your own or look for the leaves in Asian markets

7. Dangmyun

Dangmyun are naturally gluten-free, chewy noodles made from sweet potato starch.

Buy it: Amazon, $9.99 for a 10.5-ounce package

8. Korean Chiles

Fresh Korean chiles can be green or red. Related to Thai chiles, they are medium-spicy.

Buy it: Etsy, $3.99 for seeds to grow your own or look for them in Asian markets

9. Dried Anchovies

Dried anchovies add rich flavor to soups and stews or can be eaten as a snack.

Buy it: Amazon, $29.99 for 1 pound

10. Gim

Gim(dried, toasted algae, aka nori) is sold in both large sheets for making sushi and small sheets in snack packs.

Buy it: Amazon, $13.99 for 50 sheets

11. Kombu

Kombu(dried kelp) is used to add umami to many Korean soups.

Buy it: Amazon, $3.99 for 12 sheets

12. Umeboshi Paste

Made from salted, fermented and dried ume (a type of stone fruit), umeboshi pastelends a tangy, astringent note. You can make your own by passing finely chopped umeboshi through a fine-mesh sieve.

Buy it: Amazon, $12.80 for 7 ounces

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